Tag: design

Design is not magic

I’m fascinated by the “silver bullet” witchcraft attributed to design as a practice. It’s simultaneously covetous and punching down to imagine there is any secret, exclusive of years of dedication, labour and learning.

I also believe that design sprints can appeal to people who are looking for an exciting panacea. Or who want to trade their habitual nostrum for another in order to avoid confronting deeper questions.

"Design Sprints Are Snake Oil"
—Mule Design Studio
by Erika Hall

Originally posted as a tweet

Inviting Judgement

Last night I spoke at Melbourne Geek Night with a talk I've been thinking about for a long time.

"A Content-Led Destruction of Silos" sought to explore the way understanding the essence of content can help production teams work together through the design, development and testing of a new digital product.

I wasn't sure if the idea was well-formed enough to put it in front of a bunch of strangers, but I also realised that I couldn't keep putting it off. If I really wanted to discuss this idea with people, I had to be public about it. I had to invite discussion because it won't just come on its own.

The problem most people have with public speaking doesn't apply to me but after the talk I found my heart was pounding. I had the symptoms of nervousness but only once I was off the stage and back in the audience.

We are judged in so many parts of our lives that we rarely invite judgement, and we're even more rarely honest when judging ourselves.

It was only after the talk that I had the opportunity to review the talk as it exists in its real form. This is very different to reading it out loud in my lounge-room. I found myself trying to remember the audience's reaction to different points as a test of their usefulness.

In design and development we talk about testing all the time: And then we see these talks that people give: And we read these blog posts that declare the right way or the new way to do something, but we almost never stop to ask if those theories have been tested and what the conditions were for those tests.

Last night I decided to submit my own ideas to a peer review. In science this happens all the time. In science an idea doesn't even have validity until it's peer-reviewed. I was nervous afterwards because I didn't think that I passed the review but I shouldn't have concentrated on a pass or a fail. I should have just

Today, with the energy of the talk itself behind me, I'm able to evaluate the talk, not only in the way I gave it, but more importantly in the information I actually passed on to the people in the room.

I know that my first mistake was talking about the best way to do something rather than presenting my theory as opportunity for people to discuss its pros and cons. What I really wanted to do, and what I will do when I'm presenting it again, is ask people if they thought it could work.

Now I'm looking forward to the next time I give the talk. The idea of redrafting with a new context excites me. Maybe it won't even be a talk. Maybe it will be an article. What I do know is that I want to make it better and I want to make it useful to people.

Last night was the first step towards that.

This week on ‘This Australian Life’

I grew up in Australia in the late seventies and early eighties, so it was natural for me to think that someone else's culture was more valid than mine: The TV shows we saw were mostly imported; The local content was news or soap or procedural cop dramas; Australian children's television was always solid, but as kids we were already given the sense that things that were made for us were of less consequence than things created for adults; And shows for adults that had a sense of quality came from the US and UK.

Is that how you remember it? It's definitely the way we, as a culture, talk about it—especially when we have the inevitable "Why can't we produce good comedies" discussion we love to have.

To believe that requires excluding the comedies like Auntie Jack, which led to Norman Gunston, without which we would have never had Let the Blood Run Free or The Games.

There were also the Kennedy-Miller mini-series, the way for which was paved by Crawfords productions, which eventually led to Simpson-Le Mesurier productions and the excellent Good Guys Bad Guys in the early nineties.

Australia is a giant country with a relatively small population. Our two most populous cities (only the second smallest distance between two capital cities in Australia), are almost as far apart as Paris and Berlin. We feel isolated from each other as well as the rest of the world, and as a result there is an insecurity in our actions.

Recently a friend told me he wanted to start a podcast festival in Melbourne. His intention was to invite Marc Maron and John Hodgman, and their presence would encourage other big names to come.

He never mentioned an Australian podcast he would like to invite.

So, why do we look externally for validation?

When I went to my first Webstock conference (realistically one of the best-run events I've ever had the pleasure of attending), I was disappointed that a New Zealand-run event didn't have any antipodean speakers.

I thought about this for a bit. Should we blame the organisers? (They are lovely people and work very hard.) Maybe they had evidence to show that local people weren't a big enough draw card. That's definitely what other attendees had suggested to me.

If this is what attendees think, based on just attendee-to-attendee discussions, then it's probably true enough market research.

But this problem doesn't happen with other countries or cultures. The aforementioned US and UK both host plenty of web-design conferences that draw huge crowds.

Do we just accept out cultural cringe and live with it, or do we fight against it?

This is a design problem. This is a problem of getting people to accept something they unconsciously reject. Its a problem of changing minds and behaviour.

But is it a problem worth solving? What are the costs associated with building antipodean pride?

There is a very real possibility that we fear realising our already perceived irrelevance—that, despite everything we have already given the world (wifi, bionic ear, ova freezing techniques), we still never think we'll be listened to when we talk. And there's nothing worse than an irrelevant body pretending it has validity. How embarrassing!

There is, however, the contrary position. If we are supportive of our own work and push ourselves to produce better products, then maybe it won't matter what others think. Maybe we will develop a confidence to be content with our own attention.

This is not about local design for local people. It's about holding our own work to an international standard, supporting it when it reaches that level and encouraging efforts to surpass it.

We can only do that one step at a time. It's going to be tough, too, but relevance is demanded, not requested, and that takes grit.

This post was originally published in the Floate Design Partners blog

Solving problems

When I first started working with Ross Floate, he told me he sees the definition of design being the solving of problems. You find a problem and you design something that solves that problem. By extension, if you're not solving a problem, you are doing something other than designing.

One of the things I've always appreciated about Dyson products is their focus on solving problems and this is a great example.

Thanks to Lyndal for bringing this to my attention.